This week the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and NHS Improvements (formerly known as Monitor) have announced that the Colchester Hospital University NHS Trust (CHUFT) will be entering into a ‘long-term partnership’ with the Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust.
CHUFT has now been in special measures since 2013. Since then we have seen several changes in leadership, with some new Board of Directors appointed including a new Chairman and Chief Executive. Yet despite these changes, the CQC’s latest investigation at the hospital has again flagged up major areas of concern and, crucially, shown that lessons have not been learned from past inspections. The CQC is bound by law to take further action at this point.
This is a major disappointment for all who hoped to see the Trust get through these difficult times and emerge stronger and better led. I welcomed the appointment of Frank Sims, the new Chief Executive, and the progress he and Chairman Alan Rose have made in recent months. Readers of my previous articles for the East Anglian Daily Times on this topic will know that the issues at the Trust are deeply engrained and require cultural change. These issues are not quick to fix and, disappointingly, the CQC now has to try a new approach.
The staff at Colchester Hospital deserve every support and praise for their work at this difficult time. The doctors, nurses and other front line staff have worked tirelessly while facing the additional pressures of rigorous inspections and leadership changes above them. The need to know that their efforts are recognised and appreciated by patients and their families.
Now on to the ‘partnership’. What does this mean? What is the plan for making it happen? How much will it cost and where will the money come from? It is no secret that NHS services in Essex have been significantly under-funded compared to other NHS organisations around the UK. This has been to the tune of hundreds of million pounds over many years. There is a budget deficit at CHUFT which will have to be funded. At the same time, services need to be provided which meet national guidelines for safety and quality of care. The CQC and NHS Improvements now need to tell us how this partnership will address these issues and, specifically, what changes will happen and in what sort of timeframe.
These are just some of the questions which need answers, if this proposal is to strengthen our local NHS. Whatever the benefits of the changes, one thing remains clear; more money will be needed. The merger of the Wexham Park and Heatherwood Trust and the Frimley Park Hospital Trust in Surrey required much more money to complete (and to be successful) than predicted. CHUFT will need more funding to make this partnership work and the NHS will need to provide this, as well as a suitable strategy and plan, to ensure this is decision is the right one for our hospital.